Farmers warned of surge in tractor GPS thefts

Farmers are being warned to ramp up security after a spate of thefts has seen tractor GPS equipment stolen from farms in the south-west.

The GPS kits, worth tens of thousands of pounds, have been taken from farm businesses in Devon and Wiltshire since the beginning of May.

In one incident 10 receivers, seven screens and 10 armrest screens were taken from a farm in Trowbridge.

There are fears that criminal gangs are working their way across the country as other farms in the Midlands, including Staffordshire, have also been targeted.

Rebecca Davidson, NFU Mutual rural affairs specialist, said: “The theft of GPS equipment is becoming big business again for rural thieves.

As well as stealing vital equipment, criminals are leaving a trail of damage as they smash glass to gain access and crudely cut wires.

“We first saw thieves targeting GPS equipment from arable farms in East Anglia and more recently in the south-east. This crime has now spread to other parts of the country, making it a national issue.

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve seen a surge in high-value but smaller, portable items being taken – and this appears to be what is driving this rural crime wave.

“This trend is deeply worrying for farmers who are investing in hi-tech equipment to make their farms more efficient and reduce pollution.

In an attempt to stop thieves targeting GPS kit, manufacturers now provide PIN numbers to prevent the equipment being used by others.

“Most GPS kit in use on farms today is fitted to tractors as an easily-removable accessory. To prevent thefts, farmers have been removing the kit when it’s not in use and storing it under lock and key.”

DC Chris Piggott, rural vehicle crime officer at the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (Navcis), added: “Navcis are seeing organised crime gangs increasingly moving throughout the UK targeting farmers for their tractor GPS systems.

“With notifications of these units subsequently being offered for sale in Eastern Europe, Africa and the United States.

Members of the gangs will travel countrywide to steal these high-value items, causing untold damage breaking into tractors and cutting through wiring looms to facilitate the theft.

“Recommendations are to overtly mark such items marking them indelibly with the farm name, postcode or in a single identifying colour, this will make their resale unattractive to thieves.

“We would also encourage owners of StarFire 6000 systems to enable the pin code and render them useless to criminals.

“We would encourage anyone who has had suspicious vehicles or people at their property to report to the Police on 101, or 999 if a crime is in progress.

“Information can also be emailed directly to Navcis, who co-ordinate intelligence for law enforcement on these types of crime.”

Tractor GPS security advice

NFU Mutual said there were some actions farmers could take to protect their GPS equipment:

  • Remove GPS guidance receivers, aerials and antenna globes from tractors when not in use and keep them in a secure locked place whenever possible;
  • Consider fitting security tethers or brackets to stop units being removed;
  • Mark your postcode on GPS units – either with a UV pen, engraving tool of forensic marking system such as Datatag;
  • Store machinery in locked buildings whenever possible;
  • Where locking machines away isn’t an option, consider fitting mains or battery-operated alarms to cover around the perimeter of areas where machines are stored;
  • CCTV and intruder alarms will deter most thieves, but make sure they are checked regularly to ensure they will work when you need them and they are placed where they won’t be triggered by animals or foliage moving in the wind;
  • Record machinery serial numbers and photograph kit to help police identify stolen items and increase the chances of them being recovered;
  • Let employees know the security arrangements that are expected of them while working on the farm;
  • Join local Farm Watch or social media security groups to keep in touch with rural crime trends in your area;
  • Encourage farm staff to be vigilant and report any suspicious behaviour or vehicles to the police on 101, or 999 in an emergency.